Friday, July 20, 2007

David Shapiro's New and Collected Poems

David Shapiro is a poet whose work I deeply admire.
Many of his poems center around dreams.
I recently reviewed his collected poems in The Forward,

Here's an excerpt:
Is it surprising that a poet who is musical also dreams of flying? Many of Shapiro’s poems are dreamlike and often based on dreams, including one very strange poem in which the lines of a sestina appeared before his eyes as a gift from his dead mother “in lines of/color like a magic marker on a lake.” In “Father Knows Best” is a dream of flying, and in flying dreams, there’s always a trick to get aloft:

Then Father realizes son must enclose but a few electrons of air in his fistThen son flies high above the family garage and trees, branch by branch
(“Father Knows Best”)

Dreams of flying are usually feelings of mastery, autonomy, self-sufficiency. But in this case, the trick of flying is not possessed fully by the son but is somehow in the hands of the father, too. The son can fly — but the father doubts it again and again.

This is the drama of the gifted child in hyperspace, the drama of the child of a very intense Jewish family with a peculiar set of demands: a) the child must be a doctor, b) the child must be a concert violinist and c) (this is the surprising part) the child must be a leftist fighting for social justice for all. With all these parental demands, no wonder the child takes flight — but is there any escape?

There are no umbrellas, there are only frosty parachutes,
Little angels who instruct him how to fly.
He must not struggle too much with his hands,
Which having practised the violin now dog-paddle in air.

The poet can fly — he can lift us up with his imagery. Or can he? There always seems to be some doubt in the poems:

The family now knows he can fly, but still father knows best.

Shapiro’s poems are levitations, magical and incantatory, or they are physics experiments that are also dreams, and so when they seem most airy or insubstantial (falling leaves, floating above the garage), they sneak up behind you and surprise you with meaning as if you had suddenly been illuminated from behind, or walked “at the bottom of a waterfall, awake in anechoic chambers.”
How lovely to learn that all the time we were reading him:

We have been sailing in a certain small fountain,
like physicists in toy boats
Each craft bears a candle on its deck.
We light thecandles and the boats puff by
As if you were real, delightful…

(“About This Course”)

You can find the complete review here:

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